Open communication between parents and children is always encouraged. For children whose parents are divorced, communication with parents should mimic how communication would operate if both parents were under the same roof. However, the non-custodial parent (aka the parent who does not have child custody at that given moment) should be careful not to abuse that open door.
Often times I’ll hear complaints from the parent in custody that the non-custodial parent (NCP) is constantly texting or calling to check on the child. While some situations are innocent instances of curiosity, others are intentionally intrusive, meaning the NCP is using the child’s access to text or a smartphone as a way to snoop into their ex-spouse’s life or influence the child to go against the will of the parent in custody.
On the flipside, I also often hear NCPs complain that their ex-spouse is restricting their child’s communication by ignoring phone calls or text messages, or confiscating smartphone devices from the child. There are ways to manage communication boundaries to satisfy both parents’ and the child’s needs. Here are a few tips to ensure the child’s best interest is put forward, without relinquishing the custodial parent’s time or prohibiting the NCP from communicating with the child:
- Agree on a set time during the afternoon or early evening when the child can initiate a 30- to 60-minute time to talk with the NCP via a phone call, Skype, FaceTime, or instant messenger. Designate a place in the house where the child could have uninterrupted one-on-one time with the NCP.
- Respect this time the child has with the other parent. Do not interrupt or hover over their conversation. It’s also important to note that it is illegal to record conversations without consent.
- Weekend schedules should be less structured with communication. However, if you feel the communication is distracting your child from an activity or meal time it’s OK to ask the child to silence or put away the smartphone, as you would if the child were texting a friend or engaging in a game or video when he or she should be in the present.
- Before reacting negatively to excessive communication, determine if the communication is for the better or worse. Set aside any differences you have with your ex-spouse and use your best judgement to keep in mind what is best for the child.
- If interruptions continue to be problematic, prepare and file a Stipulation and Order that identifies a court-enforced communication schedule.
If parents are in conflict and communication between the two is challenging or aggressive, court-monitored tools such as Our Family Wizard and Talking Parents can help facilitate conversations. These types of online/smartphone apps allow parents to plan their child’s schedule and require both parents to respond via the platform. This eliminates the negative comments or opinions that could take place during a phone call or private text message, and ensures both parents are compliant.
Many children have their own smartphones or tablets with instant messenger features that make it easy for the flow of communication between the NCP and child. Children should be able to ask the NCP even the most nagging question at any given time. However, it is the responsibility of the NCP to be respectful of the other parent’s time with the child and practice less-intrusive communication, and the responsibility of the parent in custody to ensure the child can continue to maintain healthy, open-communication with the other parent.
Don Schweitzer is Founder and Partner of the Law Offices of Donald P. Schweitzer, a Pasadena family law firm. As a Certified Family Law Specialist and former District Attorney, he has extensive background in domestic violence, divorce and child custody issues. He is an active member of the Pasadena Bar Association, the Los Angeles County Bar Association, American Bar Association, and the California State Bar. For more information, visit www.pasadenalawoffice.com .